Leprosy in India
In addition to widespread poverty and striking inequality, India has the highest number of leprosy cases in the world, with more than 120,000 cases in 2019. Although the disease is curable, leprosy has been neglected by the Indian government since it was considered to be eliminated in 2005. The government reallocated resources that once maintained health services, trained professionals and prioritized curing leprosy. The resurgence of the disease was met with a limited government response. Today, the government does not detect approximately 50% of new leprosy cases. As a result, leprosy in India remains a significant health crisis.

The Disease of Poverty

Despite the country’s soaring GDP, India is home to one of the highest populations of the world’s poor, with more than 300 million people living in poverty. 70% of the country’s population lives in rural areas and does not reap the benefits of India’s urban wealth. Leprosy, a “disease of poverty,” disproportionately affects India’s rural poor. Lepra has since emerged to combat the detrimental effects leprosy has on those diagnosed with the disease. The organization aims to prevent, treat and reduce stigma around leprosy in the communities it serves.

3 Ways Leprosy Affects India’s Rural Poor:

  1. In India that discriminate against people affected by leprosy. For example, leprosy is deemed an adequate reason for divorce, and people with visible leprosy are legally prevented from forms of public transport such as trains. Additionally, people with leprosy face tremendous social stigma and are often ostracized from their communities due to lack of awareness about the disease.
  2. India’s rural population has limited access to healthcare. Rural populations have fewer health facilities available to them despite higher rates of diseases in these communities. These deficiencies in diagnostic facilities and trained professionals leaves many leprosy cases undiagnosed.
  3. People in poor, rural areas are more likely to contract leprosy due to malnutrition and living conditions. Although more than 90% of people are naturally immune to leprosy and the disease is not easily transmitted, those with immune systems weakened by other illnesses, malnutrition or poor living conditions are more likely to contract the disease. India’s malnutrition rates are higher in rural areas than in urban areas. Poor hygiene and sanitation in rural areas coupled with malnutrition make these populations more likely to contract diseases such as leprosy.

Lepra: The Good News

Lepra was founded in Hyderabad, India in 1989 as a partner of Lepra UK. The organization began by supporting the implementation of the Indian government’s National Leprosy Eradication Programme. Lepra has since expanded dramatically, now working in 156 districts in 9 states. Lepra caters its leprosy response to the different districts it serves. However, its core programs focus on detecting new cases, disability prevention and care, empowerment and inclusion. The organization prioritizes vulnerable, poor populations such as women, children and those living in slums.

Since its founding, Lepra has treated more than 565,000 affected individuals, provided disability care for more than 95,000 people, and produced specialized protective footwear for more than 250,000 people. Lepra organizes multiple projects in each of the 9 states it serves. It also offers services to combat lymphatic filariasis, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and eye issues.

In Delhi, Lepra’s West Delhi Referral Centre conducts screenings and surveys in schools and regularly follows up with the families of infected children until they are cured. The project also informs people affected by leprosy of their rights and engages in community outreach to reduce prejudice against those affected by the disease.

Moving Forward

Since rural poor populations are most affected by leprosy, it is essential that the Indian government invest in health facilities, train professionals to address the disease in poor regions and reform the laws discriminating against people with leprosy. Lepra’s programs and projects pave the way for leprosy to be eliminated in India and for those affected by leprosy to gain societal acceptance.

– Melina Stavropoulos
Photo: Unsplash

poverty in rural IndiaIndia has an overall population of 1.3 million, with 900 million people living in rural areas of the country. While the poverty rate has been significantly reduced due to governmental support, factors such as natural disasters, heavy dependence on agriculture and high birth rates have contributed to the continued poverty in rural India that affects around 300 million people.

Farming in India relies heavily on monsoons that bring rainfall and irrigate the land. This means that erratic weather, cyclones, water shortages and droughts all have a huge impact on agriculture and can cause damage to crops.

Environmental factors are not the only causes of poverty in rural India; societal factors play a large role as well. Many people living in rural areas lack the physical ability to work. Individuals may also face problems such as drug addiction or alcoholism. Other factors that increase the poverty rate include a poor educational system, limited access to medical care, poor or non-existent sex education and a lack of available birth control methods.

One main social issue related to poverty in rural India is the custom of child marriage. The legal age of marriage in India since 1978 has been 21 for men and 18 for women. Despite this, about one-third of global child marriages occur in India, and more than 230 million Indian girls marry before they reach 18 years of age.

In rural India, one-fifth of Indian girls are married before age 16 and give birth to their first child before age 18. Child marriages greatly affect Indian women’s physical and psychological health and result in fewer educational opportunities for younger women. It also increases the demands on food and energy as a result of a growing population.

Solutions to this problem include stricter law enforcement against child marriage and proper education regarding family planning for those living in poor socioeconomic conditions in rural India.

While the “green revolution” emphasized the ownership of private land and tried to fairly distribute this land to all individuals, much of the land in remote areas of India is still held by a small group of upper-status people. Large portions of cultivated land belong to a minority upper social class, which includes rich farmers and landlords, and results in a severely uneven distribution of land. In other words, the majority of people own very little land and as such may have to maintain a feudal relationship with rich landlords. Those not in feudal relationships struggle with a low annual income and often with debt, since the harvests from their lands seldom bring a profit. Other issues such as crop patterns, neglect of crop rotation and poor quality materials and technology also influence poverty in rural India.

Due to the high poverty rate, many rural areas in India now have to depend on loans with relatively high annual interest rates. While this seems like a good solution to the poverty crisis and reduces the immediate pressure of economic needs, in the long run, it will negatively affect these rural areas. Such loans lead to future debts and increase the need for funds to pay back the loans.

Better solutions should be adopted to help relieve financial stresses in rural India, such as a compulsory education allowance and poverty subsidies from the local government.

To sum up, poverty in rural India is caused by many factors. Possible solutions to reduce the poverty rate include stronger surveillance of land, stricter enforcement of the legal marriage age, widespread awareness of birth control, better access to medical resources and increased support for low-income families. The more solutions for poverty, the better the prospects for rural India.

– Xin Gao

Photo: Flickr